Spike Lee to be first black head of Cannes film festival jury

Paris, Jan 14 (AFP/APP):American director Spike Lee was named president of this year’s Cannes film festival jury on Tuesday, becoming the first black head of the panel.

The maker of “Malcolm X” and “Do the Right Thing” is the first person of black African descent to preside at the world’s biggest film festival, which is held in May on the French Riviera. Lee, 62, said he was “shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time” to make history.

The Cannes veteran has premiered seven of his films at the festival, with his debut movie “She’s Gotta Have It” causing a sensation in 1986 when it won the youth prize at Directors’ Fortnight.

His appointment comes as activists criticised the Oscars on Monday for ignoring actors of colour, with no nominations for the acclaimed performances of Awkwafina in the Chinese-American drama “The Farewell” and Lupita Nyong’o in the horror movie “Us”. There was joy, however, for Ladj Ly, the black French director of “Les Miserables”, which was in the running for best foreign film Oscar after winning the jury prize at Cannes.

Lee — who showed his last film “BlacKkKlansman” at Cannes two years ago — said “my biggest blessings… have happened out of nowhere. “I’m honoured to be the first person of the African diaspora (USA) to be named president of the Cannes jury and of a main film festival.”

Lee will also be awarded a Palme d’Or, the festival’s top award, for lifetime achievement. In a written statement from his home in “Da People’s Republic Of Brooklyn, New York”, Lee said Cannes had changed his life.

“To me the Cannes film festival (besides being the most important film festival in the world — no disrespect to anybody) has had a great impact on my film career. “You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became,” he added.

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